We had the good fortune of connecting with Bree Ahern and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bree, how do you think about risk?
For me, taking risks is all about continuously and deliberately stepping out of my comfort zone so I can grow as an artist and a human being. It’s about saying yes to opportunities that scare me and creating opportunities that will push me. Discomfort is key to growth, and as a musician, I’m uncomfortable more than I am comfortable! In fact, it’s a major red flag for me when I sense that I’m getting too comfortable because I know I need to mix things up. My career path often feels like a risk by nature. Every time I perform, I willingly put myself out there, exposing my imperfections to the public and trusting that my preparation and intentions will carry farther than my personal insecurities. I’ve learned to force myself to do this over time, because that dread and fear of failing will always be there…but the alternative of giving up or hiding is just not an option. Ultimately, I have to focus on something bigger than myself to motivate the risk taking process. For me, performing is all about having something to say, being vulnerable, and creating an opportunity for connection with my listeners. I think audience members can always tell when you’re being honest and vulnerable with them, and the possibility of impacting someone as a result of that openness is what keeps me coming back. When the payoff is something greater than my own fears and worries, I know I’ll always be brave enough to take risks.
My idea of risk taking has definitely evolved since graduating from Rice University in 2019 and becoming a full time freelancer. As a music student, you’re so used to taking risks that you become numb to it – you give solo recitals, you perform weekly in studio class for your peers, you take auditions, and you’re surrounded by positive competition. It’s like Disneyland! When you graduate, you don’t have a safety blanket or guaranteed performances that keep you in peak performance shape. Key for me since leaving school has been making sure that I perform as much as possible. Saying yes to performance opportunities that exist and creating ones that don’t, becoming better at networking, and developing a website and social media presence are all examples of how I’ve kept myself growing as an artist. Coming out of the pandemic, I sense that I need to take more risks with regard to my solo playing and the depth of my community engagement efforts, which is something I’m looking forward to exploring this year and beyond!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a professional cellist who performs and teaches throughout the Houston area. I perform solo and chamber music as a Young Artist with Da Camera of Houston and as a core member of Kinetic Ensemble, Loop38, and Monarch Chamber Players. My career is centered around collaboration – playing chamber music, pursuing community engagement initiatives, and working with other artistic disciplines. I’m now in my third year of freelancing since moving to Houston in 2016 to attend Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where I earned my Master’s Degree in Performance in 2019. I started playing cello when I was five years old and decided late in the game (by classical music standards) to pursue music professionally when I was in high school. Pursuing a career in music is never easy! It’s a hefty time sacrifice and takes years of dedicated effort and intention to become successful. There’s no shortcuts or tricks. I had a lot of catching up to do during college and spent many years holed up in a practice room putting in due time and effort. As with any other artistic discipline, it’s a career where the work is never done. As musicians, we are practicing on a daily basis and constantly striving to improve…the journey is never ending! It is a wonderful, rewarding, and exhausting endeavor.
What excites me most about what I do is how it connects me to others. I love sharing my music with the Houston community and using performance as a tool for healing and understanding. I also love how I’m able to do so many different things and support myself successfully. The age old stereotype of musicians performing exclusively in concert halls is one I reject in favor of bringing the music right into the community – in art galleries, hospitals, homeless shelters, public parks, and other such places. Between performing regularly and teaching, there’s never a dull moment in my schedule!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Houston is the best city for food and drink! Let’s start with my favorite: coffee. You can always get a killer shot of espresso at Southside Espresso and Catalina Coffee. I also love Retrospect Coffee, FIX Coffee Bar, and if you’re in the mood for matcha, Giant Leap Coffee in EaDo. For breakfast, I’d recommend Common Bond for pastries, and for lunch, Local Foods or Cali Sandwiches for banh mi and vermicelli bowls. For dinner, Hu’s Cooking, Aga’s, Squable, and Coltivare are all favorites. For drinks, find any of Bobby Heugel’s bars and know that every drink will taste amazing, (Anvil, Tongue Cut Sparrow, Better Luck Tomorrow, or Squable). I’d recommend visiting Buffalo Bayou and the Japanese Garden at Hermann Park for some beautiful scenery and walking/biking trails. If you’re in the mood for art, Archway Gallery, Sawyer Yards, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Menil Collection are all worth visiting. For live music, check out MATCH Midtown Theater, where I often perform with Kinetic Ensemble, Miller Outdoor Theater, the Wortham Center for jazz and opera, Jones Hall for the symphony, and Archway Gallery for chamber music.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family, friends, and network of mentors. I’m extremely close with my family – they’re the greatest gift in my life! We talk nearly every day and they’re always cracking me up, listening when I need to chat, and giving advice when I need to hear it most. I had an unconventional upbringing, and I owe it to my parents that I’ve turned out to be a curious, creative, and community-oriented spirit as a result of their efforts. I’m also very grateful for my teachers, especially Norman Fischer at Rice University, who have guided and supported me as I’ve continued to grow. Last but not least, I’m lucky to perform regularly with a group of rad colleagues who deserve a shout-out! We have a lot of fun and their musicianship and enthusiasm inspires me to stay on my game.
Candlelight Concert Series: Water Dog and Rabbit Photography. Kinetic Ensemble: Ben Doyle, Bend Productions, Photographer and Videographer Da Camera Young Artists at Moody Center for the Arts: Melissa Taylor Photography Monarch Chamber Players: Douglas DeVries Museum of Fine Arts: Brandon Bell